After negotiations that were at times difficult and briefly tense, the Flagler County School Board this evening approved a new contract that doubles the number of school resource deputies in schools, to 13, with the sheriff and the school district nearly splitting the $1.8 million cost.
The district’s share will be $788,942, not including overtime, and not including a $107,000 contribution from Palm Coast government that underwrites one of the 13 deputies, as Palm Coast has done for several years. The total also includes the $93,000 cost for nine crossing guards.
The Palm Coast contribution was key in ending a short-lived deadlock in negotiations between the sheriff and the board. The sheriff was also more flexible on overtime costs and said he’d bill the district for the cost of starting deputies rather than the veteran salaries they command, even though he intends to staff schools only with veterans: he does not want rookies as school resource officers.
It is the district’s first post-Parkland massacre school-safety contract in Flagler, compelled as much by the shooting to death of 17 students and adults at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day as by the Legislature’s new requirement of at least one law enforcement officer—or qualified armed person—on each school campus.
But the Legislature did not provide sufficient funding for the new mandate, leaving local school boards, county commissions and sheriff’s offices scrambling to make up the difference. Sheriff Rick Staly, Superintendent Jim Tager and the school board quickly endorsed the principle of doubling the number of deputies in Flagler, with hardly a disagreement among them. But negotiations bogged down in the details, in the responsibilities, location and supervisory extent of some of the deputies, and the dollar limit on each side.
It remains unclear—because the law sows confusion—what money and from what pot will be spent on mental health initiatives. What’s clearer is that so-called Safe Schools dollars will be spent almost exclusively on deputies even though a limited portion may have been spent on other initiatives.
“We all understand the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act is a good first step,” Tager said at the end of the meeting, reading from a statement. “Yet, at the same time, we also understand there is still much work to be done to ensure the spirit of that act is fully funded.” He added: “The community cares so much about its schools which is further proof that I have the best job in the state.”
In Flagler’s case, Staly said in an email to FlaglerLive, the county commission—which funds the sheriff’s budget—and Palm Coast “have agreed to assist, which is not what is being seen in many counties across the state. I am further assisting by not requiring the school board to pay the real salary costs of the more senior deputies that will be assigned to schools but only the cost of the first year deputies that are replacing them. That means the Sheriff’s budget is contributing 50 percent plus $80,000.”
Staly was represented by Chief Mark Strobridge at tonight’s school board meeting, Staly being in Highlands County for the funeral of a deputy shot in the line of duty. The board had discussed the contract at a workshop earlier in the day, amicably, in contrast with the previous workshop, when discussions between the board and Staly got tense and a divide briefly sharpened. The divide seemed resolved within days.
Staly had insisted on 13 deputies overall, two of them supervisors—a sergeant and a commander—with two deputies at Matanzas High School and two deputies at Flagler Palm Coast High School. The new state law requires at least one deputy at each school. Matanzas has had one deputy until now. Elementary schools have had “floaters,” not permanent deputies.
The new agreement calls for having both supervisors with offices on campuses. The sergeant already has one at Flagler Palm Coast High School. The commander is to have one likely at one of the two middle schools, thus increasing police presence there as well. And, Kristy Gavin, said the school board attorney tasked with negotiating the deal with Strobridge, “we need to set aside $46,000 to account for overtime for any of our extracurricular activities where we may need to bring back SRDs in the evening hours.”
The board’s vote was unanimous, but did not reflect some lingering hesitation from the two board members who had more intensely questioned the sheriff.
“Obviously I’m not happy that we’re being forced to pay for 13 deputies,” board member Colleen Conklin said, insisting on some way to ensure that all of them, especially the supervisors, will remain on site and “actively engaged with our students and faculty.” She wanted the location of the commander’s office in writing.
“I think he hears us,” board member Andy Dance said, referring to Strobridge.
“I don’t think this is perfect but I think there’s been enough input thanks to the city of Palm Coast” and that of the county commission, Dance continued, that “I’m comfortable moving forward this year.” Dance had also questioned the sheriff as Conklin had. The sheriff had not taken kindly to questions he considered “micromanaging.”
There was urgency in getting the deal done because even though deputies must be in place when school resumes in August, the sheriff needs at least three months to train seven new deputies (if not more, to recruit them). Those deputies will then be assigned to road patrol. The sheriff will fill in the ranks of school resource deputies from within, recruiting from existing deputies who want to be reassigned. So the board’s agreement was needed by May’s end–and the board doesn’t meet again until June. Tonight’s meeting was it.
“In sum it’s really a great partnership that we were able to work though any differences we had,” Strobridge said after the meeting, noting the difference between Flagler and other counties, where wrangles between school boards and law enforcement agencies have been more pronounced. “The school board was working under very difficult circumstances because they underfunded the mandate from the state of Florida to have a deputy in every school.”